earthly: When is a person half empty?

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Patty was sulking. She sat with her ankles tucked up to her buttocks, wearing headphones and refusing to look at the mountains. Clara and I, sitting over the engine, snarled quietly. I think it was the moment she told us she'd just started her period that had finally done it. My interest in other people's menstrual cycles is zero.

Sala, clutching a bottle of beer in one hand and the wheel of the boat in the other - the captain had turned out to be an old schoolpal - leaned over and touched her knee. "You are sleepy?" Patty tossed her ponytail. "And what if I am?" she said.

Patty was on holiday alone. Without books. "I knew," she said to the people next to us at breakfast on the second morning, "I'd make loads of friends". Half the pleasure of package trips is hating your fellow tourists. The people at our hotel were disappointing. There was a chap with a goatee and a man from Yorkshire who advised us not to feed the cats, and a candyfloss hairdo who wore new cruise wear on the hour, but we hadn't found anyone we could get our teeth into, fantasise about their home life, quote, project horrible ends for. Patty was a godsend.

She got round to us on the Friday. By then, she had Sala in tow. She'd met him the night before in a bar with the Goatees. The beards had disappeared, and she'd ended up agreeing to go out in his car. When he pressed us to come, we thought he wanted an extra chick factor. Later, we realised he wanted protection.

Patty sat at our table at breakfast. "What's that?" she pointed at a little dish. "Honey." "And what," she asked, pointing at my bowl, "is that?". "Er, yoghurt". "Ooh," she said. "Yoghurt and honey. That sounds nice." Sala had wandered off looking sheepish. "I've decided," she said, "I only want real relationships." Sala reappeared. "If you won't come with us," he said, "can we come on the boat with you?" We'd realised the poor guy was in trouble. We agreed.

On the lake, Patty proved not only to be a walking library of banality, but to have forgotten her swimmers. "Funny," she said, "because you know what I do? Sometimes I put my swimsuit on and then -" she mimed the action - "I put my dress on over the top." Sala borrowed some trunks from the captain and frolicked in the water. He was there on holiday from his panel- beating job in Melbourne. Patty told us about her attitude to life. "I'm the sort of person," she said, "who thinks the glass is half full rather than half empty." "Ah," I said. "I just top it up from the bottle." She didn't get it.

We reached the sulphur baths, which have been there since the Byzantians. Patty had been on Tuesday. "What you ought to do," she said, "is form a line and massage each other. That's what we did." We went in, splashed around and vowed to avoid eggs for a couple of weeks. She was waiting on the dock when we emerged. "Did you massage eachother?" she said. "No," we replied. "Oh. You should have done. That's what we did when we came here on Tuesday." "We know", said Clara. Cue headphones.

She ignored us the next morning. She sat with some new arrivals. "It's the first time I've been away by myself," she said. "I don't really like it. I mean, I love my own company, but not all the time." They cooed sympathetically. "Oh," she said airily, "loads of people wanted to come, but they were all busy. One close friend found her passport was out of date. It would have taken six months to get a new one, apparently".

Serena Mackesy

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